Any doubts about the continuing political involvement of the Union-Tribune under Platinum Equity, its new owner from Beverly Hills, were erased two weeks ago with the appointment to the port commission of Lee Burdick — an attorney who herself arrived in town barely seven years ago — by the San Diego City Council on a 5–3 vote.
After dissing Burdick’s main opponent, Environmental Health Coalition head Diane Takvorian, for being a “hard-line” environmentalist, “to the detriment of economic development and job creation,” the U-T editorial went on to praise Burdick for her “unique experience both in environmental matters and business affairs.”
Beyond her support for expanding the downtown convention center, the U-T reported little else about Burdick, a registered Democrat who joined the downtown law firm of Higgs, Fletcher & Mack in September 2008 after briefly mounting a campaign for San Diego city attorney earlier in the year.
Before that, Burdick had been counsel and government affairs director for Jimsair, the troubled private air terminal operation that was fighting the airport authority over extending its lease at Lindbergh Field. The company sold out to Houston-based Landmark Aviation when it became apparent that it couldn’t get the terms it wanted, Burdick told the San Diego Business Journal last July.
And that, as far as San Diegans were informed, was the totality of her résumé. “I’ve been practicing law for 21 years on behalf of individuals and business people who have needed to navigate their way through government processes,” the U-T quoted Burdick as saying the day following her appointment.
But it turns out that Burdick has experienced her own navigation problems, as evidenced by a December 2002 Chapter 7 filing in federal bankruptcy court here that listed total debts of $487,022.65 against total assets of just $78,327.99, and $72,064 in unpaid personal income taxes owed the State of California and the federal government.
Burdick’s biggest creditor was given as Gus Anagnostou of Redwood City, California, to whom she owed $376,000 in a disputed lease agreement, over which Anagnostou was suing her in San Mateo County Superior Court, according to the filing. “100 percent shares” in Lee Burdick, PC, which the filing said was “out of business,” were valued at zero, as was Burdick’s “10 percent interest” in Prima Legal Services of Redwood City, also listed as out of business. Interviewed by phone last week, Burdick said she was forced into bankruptcy after the dot-com bust, followed by the economic aftermath of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, decimated the high-tech clients of her Bay Area law practice, where she had lived for nine years before moving to San Diego in 2002. As a consequence, she was forced to renege on her office lease with Anagnostou, who refused to modify the agreement’s terms. “It was huge and there was no way I had the resources available to me to pay it off.”
Burdick said she finally finished paying off the back taxes she owed to the State of California in March 2005 and to the IRS in November 2007. “If I were to say one thing about the bankruptcy, I think it gives me a lot of empathy for how hard it is for small business people and just your average Joe and Jane taxpayer to navigate through hard economic times. That was the lesson I learned from going through that experience. As traumatic and hellish as it was, I learned a lot, and I think I’m a better person for it.”